Richard Heeks wrote:
> Nemo Semret wrote:
> > "The vast majority of African peasants don't --and will not in this
> > lifetime-- ever drive cars. Therefore, building roads is not a
> > priority."
> > I think all experts, whoever they are, agree that the above is
> > nonsense. Roads are needed even in the remotest part of the poorest of
> > poor nations. Now, given how often the "information highway" metaphor
> > is thrown around, it's surprising some would fail to see the obvious
> > parallel, and argue that connectivity is a luxury we can't afford.
> A nice analogy, but not one that one can easily sustain. Roads
> provide essential goods and services to African villages; computer
> networks don't. That's why it's important to build roads to African
> villages and not important to link villages up to the Internet.
I will bet that in 1896, a lot of people were saying motor vehicles
won't bring essential goods and services to villages. When the rich
people were zooming around in their prototype automobiles, did they
envision trucks delivering essential supplies? Probably not. The late
19th century Dr. Heeks would say: "Hey, in Africa they've been using
camels for centuries, why would they need things brought to them at
100km/h? What they need is to feed the camels."
Do you have any clue what kind of goods and services the Internet will
carry in the next few months (let alone decades)? If so you must be
the only one in the world. Did you have any idea two years ago that
Netscape or Yahoo would be valued at billions of dollars on the stock
market? No, because the types of goods and services they provide did
not even exist. Yet the investors who poured in that money are not all
idiots. The services are that valuable.
> > If we had to wait for the social impact assessment of every bit of
> > technological progress before implementing and deploying it, we would
> > still be in the stone age.
> Oh great, let's just leave progress to the scientists and engineers
> and to market forces and all will be well:
> "So Mr Oppenheimer, should we wait for the social impact assessment
> on your new nuclear bomb?"
> "Nah, let's just drop it now and do the assessment afterwards."
It doesn't take a sociologist to assess the impact of a nuclear
bomb. Oppenheimer could have told you that it was designed to kill a
lot of people and that's precisely what it did. But comparing the
impact of the internet to that of a nuclear bomb is, to use Dr. Heeks'
words, "a nice analogy, but not one that one can easily sustain".
There is no way bringing the Internet could do be construed as
inherently bad for an African village, anymore than for New York
City. It's just a tool. Good people use it for good things, bad people
use it for bad things. If you have faith in human nature, then you
believe that the availability of this tool will make things
better. You can argue that it might not be particularly useful, but,
that is not a reasonable basis for policy preventing someone who
thinks otherwise from trying it.
By the way, private enterprise does not necessarily mean "for profit",
or "exploiter". The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is a private
enterprise. So are NGOs. Personally, I really don't care who gets
involved, even the government, as long as whoever it is does not try
to block or slow down others -- which is what many African governments
are doing, and unless they change, future generations will pay an